Jim France: IMSA’s blockbuster news could herald new ‘Ford v. Ferrari’ era

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jim France is hoping that Friday’s announcement of re-creating a sports car bridge from Daytona to Le Mans will resemble a recent Hollywood blockbuster

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, the chairman of IMSA and CEO of NASCAR. “I can’t control what the manufacturers do and how they approach it, but the opportunity will certainly be there.”

In a joint news conference with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (the ACO is the global sanctioning body for sports cars), IMSA announced that its new DPI car for 2022 will be eligible to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The rebranded class will be known as Le Mans Daytona h (LMDh) and allow crossover between the top categories in IMSA and the FIA World Endurance Championship (whose top division will be Hypercar). Currently, the LMP2 and GTLM classes of IMSA can run at Le Mans, but its premier division isn’t eligible for the world’s biggest sports car event.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” (an Academy Award-nominated film released last fall that stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale) chronicles a bygone era in which it was possible for a manufacturer such as Ford to win the top class of both prestigious races.

During a rare interview with reporters after the news conference, France said he is optimistic that the new regulations will goose manufacturer involvement.

“The proof will be when we have a car that wins Daytona and wins Le Mans in the same year, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” France said.

He also is “very much so” looking forward to the return of NASCAR to Daytona International Speedway next month. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus is on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
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ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.